What is a Bone Fracture?

What is a Bone Fracture?

A bone fracture occurs when there is a break—complete or partial—in a bone. On average, a person will experience two bone fractures in a lifetime. Though painful, bone fractures can be easily healed with the correct treatment. However, bone fractures that are left untreated can become serious and lead to long-term disability.

Types of Bone Fractures


Types of bone fractures are categorized by the features of the fracture:

  • Closed fracture: Caused by an injury that doesn’t break open the skin
  • Open fracture: Caused by an injury that breaks the skin and may have also caused damage to the surrounding soft tissue
  • Stress fracture: A crack in the bone, mostly caused by repetitive movement over time
  • Complete fracture: The break goes completely through the bone 
  • Displaced fracture: The break goes completely through the bone and causes a gap where the bone breaks, which often requires surgery to repair
  • Compound fracture: Also known as an open fracture, a compound fracture is when there is a skin opening near the break
  • Oblique fracture: An angled break often caused by landing on your feet from a great height, or during a car accident
  • Angulated fracture: Bone is broken at an angle
  • Acute Fracture: May occur from direct trauma
  • Subacute fracture: A fracture that has begun to heal

Image depicting different degrees of bone fractures.

Signs & Symptoms of a Bone Fracture


The symptoms of a bone fracture vary depending on which bone is broken. If a bone that doesn’t require weight-bearing or continuous movement breaks, it can be hard to tell if it’s broken.

These general signs and symptoms of a bone fracture may help you know if you should seek treatment:

  • Sudden pain at the time of the incident
  • Severe pain in the injured area that worsens when moved or pressure is applied
  • The inability to bear weight on a limb
  • Swelling or bruising 
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Unusual bump in the injured area
  • Obvious deformity of the injured area
  • Loss of function or difficulty using the limb
  • Broken skin with bone protruding through

What Causes Bone Fractures?


More serious bone fractures, such as a complete or displaced fracture, are typically caused by a fall or other strong force (trauma) on the body. Even though bones are very strong, less serious fractures like partial or stress fractures can occur from repetitive sports or daily activities, such as jogging or running. 

Another common cause of a bone fracture is weakened bones from osteoporosis or other medical conditions that impact bone density.

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Although anyone can experience a bone fracture, certain risk factors make it more likely, including:

  • Aging
  • Conditions such as osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) 
  • Women who are over the age of 50 due to the post-menopausal loss of estrogen
  • Smoking, which affects bone and overall health
  • Alcohol consumption - More than 3 drinks a day affects vitamin D metabolism and increases the risk of falling
  • Steroids (corticosteroids), which cause bone loss and are often prescribed to treat chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and celiac disease
  • Diabetes, which can cause low bone density
  • History of fracture
  • Family history, especially with hip fractures

Preventing Bone Fractures


Although some fractures cannot be prevented, there are many things you can do to try and avoid them, including:

  • Increase muscle strength through exercise to improve balance and keep your bones strong
  • Eat a healthy diet with good sources of vitamin D and calcium to increase bone strength 
  • Improve balance and avoid falls with these safety tips:
    • Use a walker or cane for added stability 
    • Remove clutter
    • Maintain good lighting to help with vision
    • Remove area rugs or use skid-free mats underneath to avoid slipping
    • Wear shoes for stability, even indoors
    • Pay attention to steps and curbs
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Bone Fracture Care

If you are experiencing any symptoms of a bone fracture, contact one of the orthopedic specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian to set up an appointment.